After a week of some Czech players' complaining they weren't getting any opportunity to measure their skills against tougher opponents, fans saw a real corker of a game Monday night as the Czechs faced off against traditional rival Canada at the Ice Hockey World Championship. The two teams have done battle on countless occasions, but it was the Czechs who persevered on Monday with an exciting 6 -2 win. They made it look easy even when events around them almost got ugly. Jan Velinger explains.
Roughly a week ago the Czech NHL star, Jaromir Jagr, expressed concern the Czechs weren't getting a chance to cut their teeth on finer opponents, a concern echoed by team goalie Tomas Vokoun: well, they had their work cut out for them on Monday when they faced the rough-and-tumble Canadians who always bring hard hitting to the game. Monday saw 38 minutes in penalties, including an end-of the 2nd period scrum that could easily have turned into an all-out brawl, if cooler heads hadn't prevailed. The clearly frustrated Canadian team - at that point losing 3-1 - slammed Jaromir Jagr on the boards - trying to draw him into a fight. Afterwards penalties were handed out to both teams, with advantage given to the Czechs, setting-up a classic 3rd period that could have begun no better than this:
"Prospal's line is on the ice, it's Prospal, Dvorak... Prospal! Gooooooooal!"
"A beautiful goal, Prospal scores to make it 4-1! Prospal!"
"That's Czech hockey!"
On a night of beautiful goals this had to be one of the sweetest: just seconds into the 3rd Radek Dvorak set-up Vaclav Prospal with a perfect thru-the-crease pass that left goalie Roberto Luongo out of position. The puck had nowhere to go but into the net. And, though Canada would soon got one back from their own, Ryan Smyth, they never looked really close to taking back the game. Under continued pressure from the fast-skating Czechs, Canadian defence - and confidence - continued to crumble, with goalie Roberto Luongo allowing two more goals in the final period to make this a game a blow-out. Even Canadian captain Ryan Smyth admitted afterwards his team had not had the best of nights.
"Obviously, it's frustrating and, you know, as you saw, some of the scrums and stuff we got carried away a bit and lost our composure. Nevertheless, you gotta give 'em credit, they played a great hockey game tonight. Vokoun made some key saves and kept them in it. But, we didn't play the best we can and we know we can play better and now we've got a few days to do that."
So, the Czechs finish top of their group in the 2nd round and they do so by having beaten a worthy opponent. Last week number-one goaltender Tomas Vokoun said he was looking forward to meeting the Canadians, now the only way they could meet again would be in the tournament finals.
"They beat us last year - us and me personally in the semi-finals - so we would like to return that favour. On the other hand, no matter who's going to be in our way we have to beat them. You have to beat good teams."
Favour returned, and the Czechs will now face the United States in quarterfinal action on Wednesday. From here on in it's a completely different, well, hockey game: now there are no more safety nets, from here on in it's sudden death.
Note: Czech defenceman Jaroslav Spacek suffered a knee injury in the
second period and was taken out for the rest of the game.
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